If winning and individual play cure all evils, the Sacramento Kings’ performance on Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons would render their problems moot. DeMarcus Cousins had 33 points and nine rebounds in Sacramento’s convincing 101-92 victory over Detroit, the type of performance from both player and team it had yet to achieve in the season’s early going.
It was a potentially watershed game for the Kings, basically, who mere hours earlier were mired in the same power struggle that marked their offseason with so much palpable tension and strife. Cousins reportedly cussed-out George Karl on Monday following the purple and black’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, a tirade that sparked a players-only meeting and front office executives pondering the future of their club’s recently-hired coach.
But Sacramento played on Wednesday like so many optimists thought it would following a hyper-active offseason. Rajon Rondo notched a triple-double. Rudy Gay scored 25 points on 14 shots. The team shot 50 percent overall, 9-of-16 from beyond the arc, and forced the Pistons into dreadful 38.2 percent shooting.
After the game, Cousins said he’d happily shoulder responsibility for Sacramento’s increasingly fragile circumstances should the Kings play like they did on Wednesday night in the future.
“Shoot, I’ll take the hit,” he told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. “If it results in this, I’ll take the hit. I’ll be the scapegoat.”
That’s certainly an honorable stance, and one befitting the team leader a sizable contingent of league followers still believe the 25-year-old will never become. Had Karl gotten his way one day before Sacramento’s big win, though, it’s safe to say Cousins would be singing a different tune.
As told to The Bee, the future Hall of Fame coach tried to suspend his star big man for two games following Monday’s profanity-laced episode, an effort that was rebuffed by general manager Vlade Divac.
League sources, who did not wish to be identified because they did not have authority to speak on the matter, said Karl wanted to suspend Cousins for two games. General manager Vlade Divac, however, said the coach did not have the authority to do so and would not grant permission, according to the sources.
This intel lends credence to previous reporting that Kings executives polled the players on Tuesday and asked them how to best proceed with Karl going forward. Needless to say, it seems no one in the franchise is on the same page as the man most tasked with leading it to on-court success – a theory further supported by a damning report from USA Today’s Sam Amick that Karl’s players question his motives.
But for all the focus on the emotional fireworks, there’s a more substantive subplot that helps explain the root of this issue: the players’ trust in Karl’s motives. In between the Cousins-issued expletives, a person with knowledge of the situation said the 25-year-old big man made a comment to Karl about, in essence, his priorities. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The assertion was that Karl, who had pushed hard for this job leading up to his February hiring and was certainly a fan favorite, cared more about his coaching record than he did his players.
To be fair, the notion that the 64-year-old coaching veteran is more concerned with wins and losses than player emotions and desires shouldn’t be incendiary. Vivek Ranadivé wants to win now. Karl wasn’t hired to develop this team for the future, and Sacramento didn’t surrender vital future draft considerations for cap flexibility and subsequently sign Rondo, Kosta Koufos, and Marco Belinelli to sit on the postseason sidelines come spring.
Winning takes priority over anything else for the Kings. Either way, that Cousins and his playing peers are reportedly skeptical of their coach’s objectives is cause for additional concern. Sacramento has enough veterans in its locker room to understand the business side of basketball; there must be more to this specific tidbit than meets the eye.
It also bears mentioning that Karl isn’t just 11 victories away from surpassing Phil Jackson as the league’s fifth winningest coach, but less than 200 wins from the Don Nelson’s top-ranked mark, too. If Karl remains on the NBA sidelines into his late 60s or early 70s, its conceivable he’d usurp the late, great Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors head man as basketball’s most victorious coach.
Cousins, by the way, took blame for beginning this chain reaction before his team’s triumph over the Pistons. He released the following statement to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears on Wednesday afternoon.
It is no secret that we are all frustrated with losing – me more than anyone. I let my frustrations get the best of me in the locker room after the loss to San Antonio – that is my bad. For the record, my frustration is not about any one person or player or coach. There is no one person to blame. All of us are accountable. My frustration is that we are 1-7 [sic] simple as that.
Before the the 2015-16 season began, we pondered how the notoriously difficult Rondo would fit with the Kings on the court and in the locker room. Pairing a non-shooting, ball-dominant point guard with Cousins, Gay, and another traditional big man for a game’s majority seemed a losing proposition, and adding his voice to a franchise already overwrought with them seemed a recipe for disaster, too.
There’s still time for both scenarios to become untenable, but considering Rondo’s effect on Sacramento before anything else has been deemed premature. Karl and Cousins, obviously, haven’t mended fences the way they insisted. And no matter what coach, player, or others in the organization say about that relationship going forward, it appears increasingly likely they never will. And as a result, the Kings will continue to suffer until Karl and Cousins are separated for good.